State of the Unions, Generation Jay-Z, and the New Boards of Education

July 09, 2004 3 min read

Teacher Magazine‘s take on education news from around the Web, June 28-July 9.

In the nation’s capitol, the NEA wrapped up the season’s first union convention this past week. The biggest surprise was that Senator John Kerry, who’d been officially endorsed as prez material by delegates, didn’t show up for his scheduled speech. (Seems he was busy campaigning with some guy named Edwards.) Instead, Senator Hillary Clinton addressed the masses, telling them that if President Bush were a student, “you’d be sending home notes to his mother. ‘Dear Mrs. Bush, he never admits when he’s wrong.’” It was no surprise that delegates on the convention floor were still seething over Rod Paige’s description of the union last February. One popular souvenir item was a $5 T-shirt emblazoned with “We are all Terrorists Activists.”

The really big union news comes from the Midwest. On June 29, a Chicago Teachers Union committee, alleging voter fraud, threw out election results that showed special ed teacher Marilyn Stewart beating incumbent Deborah Lynch for the presidency by 560 votes. That same week, Lynch was supposed to hand over her office to Stewart. But with an investigation underway (among the suspicions: that 600 ballots were missing), she changed the locks instead. Stewart demanded access to the office; Lynch, however, suggested handing the union over to an independent leadership team until the dispute is resolved. Stewart declined, saying that Lynch (who was profiled by Teacher Magazine two years ago) was “making up the rules as she goes along.” The CTU committee came up with its own ruling on July 7, voting to hold a new election, entirely by mail, in late August—one that will be overseen by an outside contractor. But that may not be the last word. Next week, during its convention in Washington, D.C., the AFT, of which the Chicago union is an affiliate, is expected to deliver its own verdict on the matter.

One trend that both national unions are no doubt keeping an eye on is the growing number of young teachers in the United States, particularly evident in Los Angeles, where 8,000 certified full-timers—a third of the district’s force—are younger than 30. On the one hand, this is good: There are already shortages nationwide in the math, science, and special ed fields; and, 10 years from now, 700,000 teachers, many of them hired during the ‘60s and ‘70s, are expected to retire. But a sampling of the new crop in LA reveals baby-faced twentysomethings with hip haircuts, Sean John outfits, and a liking for rappers 50 Cent and Jay-Z. Administrators worry that some teachers are becoming too buddy-buddy with their charges. But one 40-year veteran doesn’t see a problem. “I think kids, to some extent, want to feel that you’re their friend,” she explained. “They want to be understood.”

Not so easy to understand, perhaps, is the idea that surfing might have academic value. But in fact, a host of “board” sports are now helping students earn high school and college credit. That’s right: Skateboarding is an educational tool. So say educators like Dave Bean, an English and history teacher at Gould Academy, a Maine prep school, who sees in avid skiers and snowboarders a strain of self-discipline. “They resist external organization and prefer to make their own way,” he explains. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is convinced: It’s donated $12.5 million to Outward Bound to help create 20 new high schools for 8,000 mostly lower-income students. And other schools are doing everything from making surfing an official sport to linking board time with fieldwork as part of independent studies in history and ecology.

Excellent, dude!

—Rich Shea